If Music be the food of Love

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~Voltaire

I enjoy reading a good manga now and then. Though my tastes run strongly toward shonen or action manga, sometimes I do read shojo or more boyfriend/girlfriend relationship-oriented manga if the premise interests me.

A few months ago, I came across a manga in the latter genre, titled Oishii Kankei (in English, A Delicious Relationship).

The main character is a rich girl whose father suddenly dies of a heart attack, leaving her and her mother destitute. The rich girl tries to find a job to support herself and her mother; a job that doesn’t involve her just decoratively pouring tea for businessmen in an office. But because of her luxurious lifestyle, she and her mother do not have the necessary skills to enter the workforce.

However, she does have one skill. Because her parents always took her to gourmet restaurants when they were rich, her taste buds are extremely cultivated — to the point where she can almost taste every single ingredient in a dish. This is an extremely helpful skill; even though she does not know how to cook, she can taste dishes and tell the cook what ingredients needs to be added (or removed) to make it a truly spectacular dish.

Searching for work, she meets an owner of a small, local French restaurant who is looking for some hired help. The chef of the restaurant is a rather crusty young man with a sad past, and while working with him, she develops a crush on him.

In the beginning chapters, the manga was comedic and entertaining, and I enjoyed the story. The food descriptions (and pictures) were mouth-watering. I enjoyed the rapport she had with the other workers, especially the chef/love interest. Then the manga got all weird and the chef/love interest got a girlfriend who was actually quite an awesome lady, and my brain got confused because I didn’t want them to break up, and then the main character went through some really overblown mental anguish due to that, moved to another restaurant to work, slept with the chef of THAT restaurant while preventing him from committing suicide with a small, sharp knife, and… it got to be too much for me. I couldn’t enjoy it as much, though apparently this manga (published in 1993) was popular enough that it was made into a 20-part Taiwanese drama as well as an 11-part Japanese drama.

At the same time, I noticed something interesting in the story. The main character (or others) would eat a certain dish, and remark, “The chef who cooked this put his heart into it.”

This was also pointed out when the main character switched restaurants. A young, arrogant female chef had just started working at the gourmet restaurant, and she cooked splendidly in spite of her overbearing attitude and scorn toward the main character. Everything was simmered or sauted or baked to perfection. Every ingredient was perfectly in place. However, upon tasting the food, the main character remarked, “This chef does not put her heart into her cooking. She has no love.”

How could she tell?

It’s an interesting idea, one I’ve never thought about it much. I love eating good food, and it’s not hard to find. And almost everyone can cook. Most people can follow a recipe and turn out something that looks good and tastes good. But can people really taste food and tell that there’s some special ingredient, call it love or passion or whatever you will, and say that the food is enhanced by that? Do chefs, like writers or pianists or artists, similarly benefit from the addition of this important element in their cooking? Are their eaters and readers and listeners and viewers able to tell when this important element is absent?

A writer acquaintance from the Absolute Write forums says,

Sure, I could probably follow a recipe EXACTLY and come up with an edible meal. But in cooking as in all arts, there’s a certain Factor X, a ZING, that has nothing to do with getting the notes or the ingredients or the lines or the words right. A kind of magic. Maybe it’s just plain — love. Someone who loves to cook will produce better meals than someone who just uses the right ingredients, times etc.

I think there is truth to this. My mother loves to cook. She puts love into all her meals (and she doesn’t always need a recipe, either!). Whenever I come home from college, she’ll make my favorite food. Tilapia fillets with bread crumbs, chicken fingers with bread crumbs, chicken legs with bread crumbs (can you sense a trend here?), and potato soup.

With love, it’s not just any meal.

Singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser blogged about food recently. Something she wrote in her post stuck out at me.

Food and music are closely related. A beautiful dish has rhythm, notes, harmonies that work together in the same way a good song does.

Cooking is as much of a craft as music and writing is. But it is the musician or chef or writer that uses love to bring magic into the dish or song or poem.

And I now know what an amuse bouche is.

Ricotta and Sweet Pea Tarts and Risotto with Red Wine and Fontina Croquettes

All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photos for credits.

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28 thoughts on “If Music be the food of Love

  1. I always cook, bake, write, play music, sing and dance with whatever feeling I am trying to get across. I always bake and cook with love if I bake or cook for my family or friends. From that statement, you can probably draw that I don’t cook/bake with love for anyone else. When taking cooking classes, I always cooked because I had to, never out of kindness or love.

    I must admit, I’m not a great cook or baker, but my family always eat my muffins, cupcakes, cakes and dinners and seem fairly happy with what I’ve made for them after.
    However, I nearly failed my cooking class, and my dishes were often ignored when the teacher pointed out those who did best and she was proud of.

  2. Oh, you’ve made me so hungry. I love stories about the love of cooking, but it is an art and there is heart and soul in a dish prepared with love. In fact, all my favorite movies seem to be about food…Babette’s Feast, Scent of Green Papaya, Tampopo….

  3. So maybe love = bread crumbs? 🙂

    So glad to hear that you’re getting inspiration for writing! That’s always good.

    Don’t know why you can’t see the other comment. :/ Weird. (I have been hearing that Blogger comments were doing strange things these last few days, though.)
    But here it is: “What does website copy writing consist of? I’ve heard the term thrown around, and it sounds intriguing!
    Ooooh, China! That could be very cool. 🙂 I’m behind you all the way!”

  4. I know what she means about heart & food: if my heart’s not in it, if I’m tired or stressed, or upset, my food just doesn’t taste right. Which makes the whole thing worse!

  5. I do love to cook (a family trait, actually). I’ve always considered that extra “love” ingredient to actually be imagination. Sure, following a recipe is important, but to be really spectacular you need to be able to use your imagination in order to deviate from the recipe a little. A little less of this, or more of this, or an extra spice not called for makes all the difference. Cooking definitely requires imagination.

    Also, I would suggest the manga Antique Bakery to you. I haven’t read them all, but the ones I have are light and fun, and they always make me incredibly hungry (sort of like your post! ^_^)
    ~Lia

  6. I agree, good food does have a “magic” that is beyond the mere sum of the ingredients. Something of the combination, the beauty of the ingredients, the chef him/herself…

  7. Very thought-provoking post! I love the way you weaved elements of the book with other sources, and all those food photos are delightful. You’re right: almost everyone can cook something, even if it’s just barely edible. It is possible to taste “love” — or passion — in a dish, even though it would be hard to pinpoint quite what element it is.

  8. A very thought provoking post. I love to bake, though I’m not sure whether or not I have that special something or not, lol. Thankfully, even the worst cook can enjoy the experience and having fun with it is likely just as important as doing it out of love. Maybe even the same thing. =)
    You have a very nice blog! I love the way you write, it’s so soft and serene. Thank for the comment, by the way.

  9. interesting post.
    the story sounds great, although maybe a bit too complicated? 🙂
    lovee the idea of looking at food as an art, an act of love.
    that’s truly fascinating!
    great blog! 🙂
    and thanks for stopping by mine and leaving a comment! 🙂
    xo.

  10. What an intensely fascinating post. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. But, as an amateur baker, I definitely agree: food tastes different when the person who’s cooking or baking loves what they’re doing. It is some sort of magic, but you can tell when a food has been carefully prepared and loved. The dish doesn’t even have to be picture perfect, but the taste is indulgent.

  11. Love this post! I wholly agree that cooking is an art and that love is the most important ingredient. In fact, when I am feeling a little crummy, I refuse to cook for anyone else, because I don’t want to spread any negative energy. But if I’m in a mood and I start to cook, usually said mood disintegrates. Good, wholesome foods have a knack for sharing their restorative energies.

    And the pictures you share here are absolutely mouthwatering!!! oh, especially that three-chocolate mousse cake. Oh yummy.

  12. Hi! Thank you so much for your lovely words!! I really like your interesting blog and the way you explain all these great stories, it´s like reading a book!!
    And talking about books, the one that made me realise how much love you can put on a plate, was the wonderful and so emotive “Like water for chocolate” from Laura Esquivel, all these descriptions were simply amazing…

    Hope you have a wonderful day!!

  13. Very interesting post to read! I never really thought about, that without love, a dish is just another dish. That must be why I don’t cook as well as my mom!

  14. Mm, bread crumbs. The best food really do have bread crumbs. I think that’s the secret, not that whole love thing. Just kidding, love’s important too. I think when food is served to you with love that adds to it too. I’ve had waiters that add the love aspect of it, by serving it with a smile and presenting as if they really love the restaurant and the food and it’s going to be great. Love makes everything better, wherever it comes from. I love love!

    Also, amuse bouche is one of my favorite phrases. I call shots amuse bouche sometimes, when the bartender has one of their own creation. They could be, right? Eh? No? Too much of a stretch?

  15. I want that cake you posted a picture of! I like the part about cooking with love. I made cookies with my boyfriend’s kids last weekend, and although we missed up the recipe a little, and the cookies were oddly shaped, still tasty! I’m sure it was the love.

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